Why is Hurricane Sandy So Damn Big?

Sandy is big! And it’s hitting the east coast of America with a vengeance. The adjectives being thrown around are ‘superstorm’, ‘Frankenstorm’ and ‘The perfect storm’. And the bad news is that all of these adjectives seem apt. Sandy is moving in fast from the east coast, boasting a fiery looking ‘eye’, which is nearly 150 km in diameter. The whole storm is somewhat close to 700 km. Worsening the situation is a cold front that is moving in from the north to the south, independently of Sandy’s activities. The fearful collision is awaited.

Hurricane Sandy as it makes landfall over Cuba.This is taken in infra-red. (Photo Courtesy: NOAA/NASA)

Sandy has forced the evacuation of reportedly 3.5 million people in New York alone. Sandy has been upgraded from a tropical storm to an extra-tropical storm. While this classification can be made just from the location of the storm – tropical storms occur in the tropics and extra-tropical ones out of the tropical regions – the correlation with storm size is direct. Extra-tropical storms always tend to be larger than tropical storms. Sandy has just moved northwards and has become even bigger.

Cyclones

Cyclones are one of Nature’s ways of transferring heat from the tropics to the polar regions. This happens only when the transfer needs to be dramatic – i.e. when the heat difference built up is large. There are other less destructive ways of heat transfer, including air currents like the jet stream, ocean currents like the Gulf Stream current and, of course, the prevalent winds. Cyclones are natural consequences of heat build-up in one region of the ocean. This creates a local low-pressure region. Colder winds from the surroundings rush in, but this chaos makes the wind swirl around the central ‘eye’. If the heat difference is large, the ocean’s heat can fuel the process to massive proportions.

The cyclone will move away from the equator, because that’s what wind systems do – move from hotter regions to colder ones. Plus, the rotation of the Earth makes sure that worldwide cyclones hit just the east coasts of landmasses! (Check this fact out and try to find an exception).

Worse…

Now that Sandy is moving further north, it will weaken because the ocean waters get colder and thus the heat source is no longer as proactive. But wait! The Gulf Stream – a warm ocean current moving along the east coast of N. America – is actually acting as a substitute for the ocean warmth. Since it carries warm water and flows along the surface of the ocean, it is intensifying Hurricane Sandy! Bad bad news! Sandy is expected to follow the warm water trail along the east coast, before it is driven on land.

A newer surprise is awaited when Sandy meets a cold wave that is coming in from the north. But that’s for another time.
Stay safe everyone and heed the warnings by the authorities.

Spectacular Satellite Photo Of The Giant Hurricane Kenneth

A giant storm is the new talk of the town, as the massive Hurricane Kenneth continues to bear down upon the eastern Pacific seas, yet to make landfall. The giant storm grew from a large Tropical Storm to a giant Hurricane in a span of two days. Kenneth’s windspeeds were recorded at 230 kmph, which means that it is a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Kenneth is a rare late-November tropical hurricane. On 21st November, the windspeeds were clocked at 140 kmph, but quickly gathered strength from the warm seas surrounding the eye of the storm. Her’s a photo the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite snapped on 21st November:

This photo of Kenneth was taken on 21st November by Terra. Courtesy: NASA

The storm continues to move eastwards. It has weakened somewhat, but is still a Category 4 storm. There has been no warning issued, as it is not expected to make landfall. Its current location is off the west coast from Baja California, New Mexico.

Here’s a more recent image from the NOAA’s premier GOES-13 satellite:

Hurricane Kenneth as seen by NOAA's GOES satellite on 22nd November. The eye is clearly visible. (Courtesy: NOAA/NASA)

The storm is expected to weaken further as it moves northwest. It’s late season giant, but is not expected to cause any damage on land.

Hurricane Irene Blows In Baby Boom On The East Coast

It was a strange coincidence and a happy one for many! While Hurricane Irene brought in a frantic scurry for many and really bad news for a few people, it also supposedly brought smiles to a number of mothers, who just delivered their bundle of joy. There was a baby boom in some hospitals on the East coast during the torrid weekend reconfirming people’s belief that a drop in the atmospheric pressure helps bring in labour quicker in pregnant women.

Joy Unbounded!

We would hurry to say that this belief is unfounded and is not scientific. There have been studies aimed at linking early labour with drop in the barometric pressure, but all have been inconclusive. There is just not enough correlation to prove the hypothesis. The rumour still persists.

The Boom

At the Sentara Obici hospital in Suffolk, Virginia, there were a record 15 childbirths that took place between Friday night and Sunday morning in the space of 30 hours or so. This is way greater than the usual rate of three or four a day. Further, New Hanover Regional Medical Center in North Carolina reported a staggering 17 babies during 18 hours from Friday night onto Saturday evening. This hospital sees about 11 to 12 babies a day.

When it came to names, however, Irene didn’t seem to find too much of popularity amongst the parents. Only two girls born at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, North Carolina were named Irene’. But this was the wrong place to go, if you wanted to see a baby boom. Pitt County reported a lesser than average number of babied being born.

Here’s wishing all the new mothers and their bundles of joy the very best.

Why Hurricane Irene Fizzled Out After Initial Scare

When they got it wrong, they got it spectacularly wrong! Meteorologists have become the newest subject of many jokes in recent days, as they got the storm prediction of Irene embarrassingly wrong. Hurricane Irene was nowhere near as big as it was made out to be! What was supposed to be a major storm and cause widespread mayhem, fizzled out to become a bit more than a strong breeze. Yes, it did rain and yes, trees were uprooted in many places, but the weather guys had warned us about far worse things. We would like to stand behind the weather forecasters and explain why the predictions were so far off-the-mark.

Flooding in New York City

Irene’s Energy Sink

The greatest sink of Irene’s energy was the cold water it was moving into. As storms move northwards, the ocean temperature drops and the energy reduces. This effect is marked if there are no other sources of energy like warm water currents. The cold waters east of Delaware and Maryland did the trick. Further, any storm weakens as it encounters terrain, as it cannot pick up energy as it could from over the water surface. What was really surprising in Irene’s case was the rapidity with which the storm downgraded itself from a fearsome Category 3 storm with wind speed of 115 mph to a Tropical Storm barely registering 60 mph.

The Collapse that saved many others

The US Meteorological Department provides the answer. There was a wall of moisture laden clouds spinning at over 100 mph near the eye of the Hurricane. This inner eyewall’ was supposed to collapse and be replaced by an outer eyewall’, which would then shrink and replace the inner eyewall. While the collapse of the inner eyewall would represent a decrease in storm intensity, the replacement procedure has been associated with the strengthening of the storm. In case of Irene, the outer eyewall never materialized and when the inner eyewall fell, the storm weakened rapidly. The energy, which was supposed to be concentrated over a small area, spread out. The rain bands disassembled themselves and the result was a Tropical Storm.

Another factor was the wind system over the Great Lake region, which spread eastwards and sapped away energy from the Hurricane, through a process called wind-shear’.

Be Fair!

To be fair to meteorologists, this kind of process involves so many parameters that it is impossible to be spot-on every time. Being on high alert and then relaxing is better than being caught off-guard.

An uprooted tree in New York City: Not Enough Huh?

Irene was not completely harmless. It did kill 16 people, uprooted several trees and flooded Lower Manhattan and New York. It is indeed fortunate that nothing worse happened.

Hurricane Irene Prompts Mandatory Emergency Evacuation of New York City

Irene is big and this has been well appreciated by New York city Mayor Micheal Bloomberg. For a first time ever, Mayor Bloomberg has ordered mandatory evacuation of 300,000 residents from the city as soon as possible.

The eye of Hurricane Irene as seen from NASA's Terra weather satellite, taken in the afternoon of 26th August. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL, Caltech/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Hurricane Irene, a former Category 3 storm (wind speeds over 115 mph), now slightly degraded to a Category 2 (wind speed of 100 – 110 mph), is still moving ominously along the east coast. It has still not made landfall at the time of  writing this report (August 27th, 00:05 EST), but is expected to really shake up the twin Carolina states.

Predicted positions for Irene (Courtesy: Associated Press)

Torrential rain is predicted and the initial spells have already begun lashing the Carolina states, Washington and New York City. When Irene does make landfall, it will cause significant structural damage, especially to the outskirts of the major cities.

The threat level is still Extreme’. As already mentioned in a previous post, huge storm surges are predicted. Due to all of this, Mayor Bloomberg announced

This is a mandatory evacuation. By five o’clock tomorrow you have to be out. Waiting for the last minute is not a smart thing to do. This is life threatening.

All rail and subway services will be shutdown in a few hours (on Saturday, 27th August). Mayor Bloomberg further warned

Bridges aren’t going to fall down, but there is a point when the winds get so strong that they close because cars and trucks could be blown off them.

Irene is not the new Katrina! Katrina was much bigger. But Irene is still pretty big and you’d still be wise to follow directives. If you are on Irene’s path, we wish you the best of luck. Stay safe.

(Photo: Irene’s scary eye as seen from space here. The amazing photo is in infrared!)

Updates will be posted here, as soon as we get them.

Latest Update:

Irene Hits New York City, Floods Manhattan. Three Million on East Coast Left Without Power HERE.

Update: Hurricane Irene Now A Major Storm, To Make Landfall In 24 Hours in N.Carolina

Hurricane Irene is the newest threat from Mother Nature. This is the biggest storm in the Atlantic region, and indeed globally, this year. It is currently classified as a Category 3 storm with wind speeds exceeding 115 mph. It is currently moving through the Bahamas.

(Update as of 1430 EST, 27th August: Hurricane Irene rams into the East Coast. For some latest pictures from space, click here)

We had an article earlier showing infrared photos of Irene snapped up from space.)

Hurricane Irene is a category 2 storm right at this moment (6 a.m. EST, 26th August) with wind speeds of 110 mph. It is located just east of the Florida peninsula presently. It is expected to gain in speed and regain its Category 3 status in another 20 hours or so.

Eye of Hurricane Irene

It will continue northwards, making landfall in North Carolina in another 24 hours and then plough northwards through the land surface. The hurricane will lose steam and wind speed will decrease to about 100 mph. However, the ground wind speed is expected to rise sharply. By the time it reaches Washington D.C., it will probably drop down to the category of a tropical storm, with wind speed of about 60-70 mph.

The threat level of the hurricane has been updated to EXTREME’, in the hope that the American public will be ready to take immediate evacuation measures. The greatest threat will include extensive damages to major cities like Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk.

Irene will cause extensive flooding and even flash floods in certain areas. Storm surges are expected and thus small ships and trawlers have been warned against venturing out.

You can obtain up-to-the-minute tracking information of the storm here.

An Update here.

Hurricane Irene batters the east coast! Here’s a series of images!

Stay safe.

Satellite Snaps Infrared Photo of Eye of Hurricane Irene, the Biggest Atlantic Storm in 2011

The eye of Hurricane Irene was spotted by infrared cameras from space and it is scary. Hurricane Irene breezed past the Bahamas, with winds clocking up speeds of 115 mph.

Though, the hurricane had gone through a dip in power on the 23rd of August, it regained more than what it lost the day after. It is the first major hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season. Hurricane Irene is now a Category 3 storm, a term used for storms having winds in the range of 110 to 130 mph (175 to 210 kmph).

(Update: Irene now a major storm)

The following picture was taken by infrared instruments on board the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite or GOES-East. It is managed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Hurricane Irene eye seen from space. It was taken by infrared detectors aboard GOES East satellite. Photo courtesy: NOAA

The redder areas are hotter than the cooler blue areas. (Infrared photos detect heat patterns and not actual visible features).

A hurricane is basically winds of high speed moving towards a central eye’ or region of low pressure. The central region is a hot’ region, with a markedly higher temperature than the surrounding areas. As a rule of thumb, hotter regions mean lower pressure. As air move from higher to lower pressure, high speed winds spiral towards the center.

The Bahamas is expected to receive 15 to 20 cm of rainfall due to Irene, with some regions expected rainfall as high as 40 cm. Storm surges are also expected. Irene is also predicted to move northward to the banks of Outer Carolina, where it will make landfall. However, by this time, it will have weakened due to cooler waters there, NOAA reported. Heavy rains are still forecast.

Irene is slightly early. Although August to October are peak months in the Atlantic hurricane season, big storms generally come in September.

(Update:  Irene now a major storm)